Meal Prep Cookbook For Dummies
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When you’re on top of meal prep, you need to know how to keep your veggies fresh — having to run out to the store at the last minute is the opposite of prepared. Meal prep is all about making meals in advance, so you need to know how to use the freezer to your advantage. If you want to be a meal-prep pro, you need expert hacks that’ll make your life simpler, as well as advice on how to shop successfully. Read on for tips on all these subjects!

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How to keep produce fresh

An essential part of meal prep is understanding how to keep your produce fresh. Here are some money-saving tips for keeping some of your favorite meal-prep produce ready for any meal:
  • Leafy greens: To store leafy greens — like kale, spinach, lettuce, and chard — wash, spin or pat dry, and wrap in a tea towel or paper towel. Then place in a resealable plastic bag and store in the refrigerator up to one week. Hardier greens, like kale and spinach, may last up to two weeks.
  • Fresh herbs: The best way to store your favorite herbs — like parsley, cilantro, or basil — is to trim off the bottom tips and place them into a glass. Fill the glass with ¼ cup of water, and place a plastic bag over the tops of the herbs. Store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.
  • Carrots and celery: To keep your carrots and celery crunchy, cut off the ends and place them into an airtight container. Fill the container with water and store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: To keep your cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) crispy and crunchy, cut into bite-size pieces, and place them in a container with the lid slightly loose or not fully locked on. They’re gas producing, so be ready for the smell when you open them. They’ll keep up to five days.
  • Potatoes, winter squash, onions, and garlic: Find a cool, dry place in your pantry, and store these items in a basket that provides air circulation. Without proper air circulation, the produce may get moldy.
  • Berries: Keep berries in their container in the refrigerator. Or, you can soak them in a vinegar solution (3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar) for ten minutes, pat dry, place on a paper towel, and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
  • Apples and citrus fruits: Store as whole fruit up to one month in a refrigerator drawer.
  • Kiwi, pears, and melons: Store at room temperature until they’ve ripened. Then store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes are best served and stored at room temperature. Once cut, tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator up to two days.
  • Avocados: Store unripe avocados at room temperature. Once ripened, move to the refrigerator. After you slice open a ripe avocado, squeeze it with lemon juice and store it cut-side down in water up to three days. Avocados freeze well. To freeze avocado halves, brush with lemon juice, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and place in a vacuum-sealed bag to remove all air. Freeze for up to one month. You can also freeze them prepared as guacamole in an airtight freezer-safe bag for up to one month.
  • Mushrooms: Fresh mushrooms should be stored in their original packaging in the refrigerator. If you buy in bulk, wipe mushrooms clean and store on a paper towel in a glass storage container or in a brown paper bag for up to one week. To freeze, sauté mushrooms first; then freeze in a freezer-safe bag up to one month.
All produce should keep their distance from bananas, apples, kiwi, and avocados, because they produce ethylene gas and can quickly ripen any produce in close proximity. If you want to speed up ripening, place the produce in a brown paper bag with one of the listed fruits, and within 24 hours you’ll have progress.

Tips for freezing foods

Your freezer may quickly become your best friend when diving into meal prep. Freezing is a great way to reduce waste and have ingredients on hand for meal planning. But before you start tossing those freezer-safe bags into your freezer, consider these tips:
  • Always chill foods first. Before you freeze your favorite lasagna or roasted vegetables, let them cool off a bit.
  • Label the bags with the contents and the date. It won’t take long to forget what you tossed into the freezer, so make a note of what you froze and when.
  • Know which tools you need. If you’re freezing casseroles, consider buying aluminum baking pans. Make sure foods are cool first; then tightly wrap with plastic wrap or vacuum seal to ensure foods are airtight to avoid freezer burn. Stock up on freezer-safe zip bags, reusable plastic or glass containers, heavy-duty foil, canning jars, and vacuum-sealed bags. Don’t try to get away with using old butter or yogurt containers, pickle or olive jars, bags that aren’t freezer safe, or plastic bread bags — they won’t work well.
  • Know how to freeze produce. For most vegetables, it’s best to blanch or roast them before freezing. Carrots, celery, and onions can be frozen raw, but broccoli, green beans, and potatoes need to be blanched 1 to 3 minutes, placed into cold water for 1 minute, and then patted dry before freezing. Having a mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery) on hand can safe you five to ten minutes of meal prep for most soups, sauces, and stocks. These three vegetables freeze beautifully from raw. Lay them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, freeze, and then transfer to a freezer-safe bag. Give fruit a quick wash, pat dry, and then spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to freeze. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe bag and keep up to six months. Berries, stone fruit, mangos, bananas, and pineapples, all freeze well. Apples and pears are beset cooked first.
  • Know how to freeze eggs and dairy. To freeze eggs, whisk one egg at a time, and pour into a silicone muffin pan (one egg per cup); after they’re frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe bag up to one year. (Note: Hard-boiled eggs do not freeze well.) If you frequently find yourself without milk, consider freezing a pint or two in the original carton; it’ll keep in the freezer up to six months. To freeze cheese, grate hard cheese onto a parchment-lined baking sheet; for shredded cheese, place in a freezer-safe bag and freeze up to one month. To freeze yogurt, pour into a silicone muffin pan for easy freezing; after it’s frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe bag up to one month. Packages of butter can go directly into the freezer for up to three months.
  • Freeze with a multicooker in mind. If you freeze your meals flat, they won’t fit into your multicooker! Consider the shape of the pot and make sure the contents can fit into your pot while frozen. If you’re using a slow cooker, don’t cook raw meat from frozen — the foods can sit in the danger zone (40 to 140 degrees) too long and risk bacterial spoilage.
  • Freeze your favorite fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, thyme, and parsley. To freeze, chop up fresh herbs and place into either a silicone muffin pan or ice cube tray. Then pour either extra-virgin olive oil or water over the tops of the fresh herbs. Place into the freezer and, once frozen, pop them out and transfer to a freezer-safe bag for up to six months.

Meal-prep hacks

When meal prep is your life, you need to know the following hacks.
  • Keep a salad bar on hand. Keeping your favorite salad ingredients on hand makes eating salads far more fun than the standard lettuce, tomato, and carrots. Place your favorite toppings on a tray and store them in your refrigerator. Pull out the tray and — presto! — you have a salad bar. Wash and store beans, nuts, seeds, grated or chopped vegetables, cooked bacon, canned tuna, pickled vegetables, and dressings, and pair with your favorite boxed greens for a simple dinner or lunch any day of the week.
  • Stock up on shortcuts. Meal prep doesn’t have to mean preparing every food from scratch. Convenience foods can help a meal pull together in minutes. Stock up on frozen prepared meats like meatballs, sausage, grilled chicken, rotisserie chicken, quick-cooking grains (like couscous, pasta, and frozen rice), frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, and frozen breads.
  • Invest in a multicooker. Having a pressure cooker or slow cooker means you can create hands-off meals in an instant! Pack your freezer with five frozen meals ready for the Instant Pot, or defrost and cook in your slow cooker to fill in on the days when your refrigerator is running low or you’re super-busy.
  • Double up on your favorite grilled or roasted meats and carry them over into tacos, sandwiches, salads, or tostadas. They’ll keep for up to four days in your refrigerator. Cooked meats also freeze well. If you’re roasting a turkey, consider roasting two and freezing the shredded or chopped meat for another meal.
  • Get organized. List making, meal planning, keeping a tidy kitchen, and organizing your food storage areas will make you more likely to want to cook or be in the kitchen. Take time to plan out two or three meals, make a list, prep those meals, and neatly organize them in your refrigerator by grouping items together and labeling them. Clear containers help with identifying food contents, whether in your refrigerator or pantry.

Tips for a successful shopping trip

Navigating a grocery store can be daunting if you aren’t prepared, but with a few savvy skills in your back pocket you can tackle the aisles with ease. Here are some tips to get you started:
  • Have your grocery list ready and try your best to stick to it. Yes, it’s tempting to go for what looks pretty or is on sale, but if you’re on a budget, you’re better off focusing on what you need. If a vegetable or fruit is on sale, it can be an easy swap for another item on your weekly menu, so be flexible, too!
  • Organize your grocery list by aisle. This simple organization tool can help minimize the time you’re at the market.
  • Try store brands. Canned beans, canned tomatoes, pastas, cereals, and soups can match your favorite brand competitors in flavor while beating them in price. Give them a try!
  • Shop during less busy hours. Peak hours (after work) can be the toughest time to navigate the market. Find a time, perhaps later at night or earlier in the morning, that you can swing by the market and avoid the rush.
  • Eat a snack or meal prior to going the market. Shopping on an empty stomach can make everything seem more appealing or have you rushing through the market and forgetting something. Take the time to eat some yogurt or a piece of fruit prior to entering the store.
  • Go for canned and frozen items. Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables can be a great way to save pennies. Most canned or frozen produce items have been quickly processed at the height of their freshness, locking in more nutrition!
  • Check the expiration dates on all foods. Everyone makes mistakes, and that includes store clerks. Be sure to monitor those dates when grabbing a canned good or dairy item. Let a store clerk know if you found something already out of date.
  • Shop bulk items, but only for items you have the space to store. The 12-pack of green beans may be a great buy, but if you don’t have the pantry space to store it, it’s best to just grab what you need.
  • Check unit price (price per weight) for the best buy. Is that 28-ounce can of tomatoes a better buy than the 14-ounce can? Double-check the unit price. It’s usually listed under the cost of the item. Checking the unit price is a great way to compare brand names, too! Cereals are often sneaky and come in different package sizes, so a unit price comparison can help you make the best choice for your wallet.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Meri Raffetto, RDN, founded Real Living Nutrition Services (reallivingnutrition.com), which pro- vides one of the only interactive online weight-loss and wellness programs.

Wendy Jo Peterson MS, RDN, enhances the nutrition of clients ranging from elite athletes to pediatric patients, and is currently a culinary instructor at Mesa College.

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